Getting to Know the NHL Rulebook: Match Penalties and Misconducts

Welcome to another installment of our series where the WIIM authors read big, boring NHL documents so you don't have to. Today's rulebook post talks about what happens when players try to hurt each other.

NHL Official Rules 2013-14 (PDF)

Rule 21 - Match Penalties

21.1 Match Penalty: Match penalties are assessed against players deemed to have "deliberately" injured or attempted to injure an opponent. When a player is assessed a match penalty, he is ejected from the game and officially given 10 PIM. Not only is he ejected from the current game, but he is also suspended indefinitely "until the Commissioner has ruled on the issue."

21.2 Short-handed: The penalty is served as if it were a major penalty, meaning that a teammate (since the actual offender has been ejected) sits in the box for 5 minutes. The teammate to serve the penalty is designated by the "Manager or Coach"; unlike the major penalty rule which allows for leeway in when a player can actually sit in the penalty box, for a match penalty, "such player [must] take his place in the penalty box immediately."

21.3 Reports: Referees are required to tell Gary Bettman about match penalties and their surrounding circumstances immediately following the game.

21.4 Infractions: Reference Table 8 on page 132 (PDF p. 143) entitled "Summary of Match Penalties." A subset of penalties from this list--butt-ending, "Goalkeeper who uses his blocking glove to the head or face of an opponent," head-butting, punching and injuring an unsuspecting opponent, spearing, and wearing tape on hands in altercation--are noted with an asterisk that says "match penalty must be assessed when injury results." In other words, you can get away with less than a match penalty for "punching and injuring an unsuspecting opponent" if the opponent doesn't sustain an injury. Good job, NHL rulebook, good effort.

Rule 22 - Misconduct Penalties

There are two classes of these: Rule 22 Misconducts and Rule 23 Game Misconducts. We'll get to Rule 23, but suffice it to say Rule 22 is a 10-minute penalty, and Rule 23 is hockey's equivalent of an ejection. In other words, these are not the same thing.

22.1 Misconduct Penalty: Misconducts rule a player off the ice for 10 minutes of game time. They do not, however, change manpower on the ice on their own. Because they are often coupled with other penalties at the same stoppage of play, there is usually a change in on-ice strength, but if Justin Abdelkader, say, were assessed only a 10-minute misconduct for verbal abuse of an official (Rule 39), the Red Wings would remain at 5-on-5. Players whose misconduct penalties have expired must remain in the penalty box until the next stoppage of play.

22.2 Misconduct Penalty - Goalkeeper: If a goalie is assessed a misconduct penalty, the "Manager or Coach" decides which of his teammates gets to spend 10 quality minutes in the penalty box.

22.3 Short-handed: As already mentioned, misconduct penalties on their own don't cause a team to be shorthanded. If a player is assessed a minor or major penalty along with the misconduct, he takes a teammate with him to serve the minor or major, and the timing on the player's misconduct doesn't start until after the minor or major penalty.

22.4 Reporting: "All misconduct penalties assessed for abuse of officials must be reported in detail to the League office." Yes, only for abuse of officials.

22.5 Fines: Misconducts result in automatic fines of $100.

22.6 Infractions: Reference Table 9 on page 133 (PDF p. 144) titled "Summary of Misconduct Penalties" lists the infractions that can result in a misconduct.

Rule 23 - Game Misconduct Penalties

23.1 Game Misconduct Penalty: "Game misconduct" is hockey-speak for "ejection." Like the non-game version, it doesn't cause a team to be shorthanded, and like the match penalty which also results in an ejection, players are given 10 PIM.

The next few sections are a bit of a trainwreck. Game misconducts incur additional punishments in the form of fines, and getting more than one, especially in a specific category of offenses, can incur additional fines and automatic suspensions. Why the need for this kind of differentiation is beyond me, but the next few sections are essentially "Game misconducts can also get you fined and suspended."

23.2 Fines and Suspensions: Game misconducts also come with an automatic $200 fine. They are also reported to the Commissioner who can decide to impose further penalties. Then there's this paragraph:

Any game misconduct penalty for which a player has been assessed an automatic suspension or supplementary discipline in the form of game suspension(s) by the Commissioner shall not be taken into account when calculating the total number of offenses under this subsection.I think this paragraph would have made more sense after the other subsections which actually define the punishments for multiple game misconducts. I honestly don't know what the motivation behind this part of the rule could be.

23.3 Fines and Suspensions - General Category: If a player gets 3 "general" game misconducts in the regular season, he incurs an automatic 1-game suspension. If he gets more "general" game misconducts afterward, the suspension is increased 1 game for each misconduct. So on the fourth, it's a 2-game suspension; fifth, 3 games, and so on. For each suspension, the player's Club is fined $1000. In the playoffs, the same rules--Club fine, suspension, and suspension increases--apply, except replace "3" general game misconducts with "2" and adjust accordingly. Table 10 on page 134 (PDF p. 145) lists "General Category" game misconduct infractions.

23.4 Fines and Suspensions - Abuse of Officials Category: If a player gets 2 "abuse of officials" (Rule 39) game misconducts in the regular season or the playoffs, he'll be suspended for the next game. Additional game misconducts mean longer suspensions in the same manner as the "general category" game misconducts (meaning 1 additional game per game misconduct).


We're not done with Rule 23 Game Misconduct Penalties yet, but the next subsection has a few too many details to add to an already substantial post. Even then, the details already covered in the previous two subsections seem needless. If the NHL is bothering to differentiate between misconducts and game misconducts, I see no reason to further subdivide the punishments according to what kind of game misconducts are assessed to players. There's a further detail we'll cover next time which seems equally needless and borderline stupid on its face. We'll save that detail and penalty shots for next time.